heliodorus maccabi revol.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On May 3, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem unveiled the Heliodorus stele (inscribed stone block), an extremely important archaeological artifact dating back 2,200 years from the Hellenistic period. The stele is considered an independent historical source containing information leading up to the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks and their king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BCE.
On extended loan from Michael and Judy Steinhardt of New York, the stele, written in ancient Greek and deciphered and interpreted by Prof. Hannah Cotton-Paltiel of the Hebrew University and Prof. Michael Woerrle of the Commission for Ancient History and Epigraphy at the German Archaeological Institute in Munich, documents a correspondence between Heliodorus and King Seleucus IV, ruler of the Seleucid Empire from 187 to 175 BCE. In it the king announces the appointment of an administrator to oversee the sanctuaries within the provinces that included the Land of Israel. Analysis of the patina indicates the stele came from an area between the Judean hills and the Mediterranean coast.
This royal edict was intended to bring the southern provinces into line with the rest of the Seleucid Empire and ensure royal control over the holy places and their revenues. Undoubtedly the Jews in the region saw this decree as an infringement on their religious autonomy and, consequently, less than ten years later the armies of Antiochus IV Epiphanes entered Jerusalem, defiled the Temple and desecrated the Holy of Holies, an act that led to the outbreak of the Jewish revolt.
The Heliodorus stele (height 80 cm, width 58 cm, thickness 14 cm) is one element in a special display at the Israel Museum, through June entitled Royal Correspondence on Stone: The Overseer of the Sanctuaries. The presentation also includes another Seleucid royal stele, the Hefzibah stele, from the museum's permanent collection.